Press Freedom in Somalia through the eyes Of a resilient blind journalist

Growing up in a poor family in the outskirts of Mogadishu town, 30 year old Hassan Abdifatah had a dream to become a journalist. At two and a half years old, an ill-fated kick from a donkey one day as he followed his father to the farm left him partially blind. Young Hassan survived through the next three years of his cheerful carefree infancy with one eye, until again, a second unfortunate incident claimed the remaining of his sight. Hassan was left blind after one of his friends hit his eye in an accident during a sports game.
Born in Marka town, his family had moved to Mogadishu a year later, where only after a few months, his father; a very strong support system for him, passed away after a period of battling illness. “The family was devastated,” he recalls. “I remember the years that followed were especially hard for my mother, who was left to support my six siblings and myself, a special needs child, having to do several odd jobs to make ends meet.”
This is the story of Hassan Abdifatah Ahmed, a journalist, who inspite of his blindness, manages to bring to sight issues affecting his community. Hassan has been an active player in the media of Somalia for the last eleven years. His resilience and passion for his job, together with his calm, humble character has seen him make a name for himself and an audience of loyal followers.
Hassan currently works as a reporter, news anchor and talk show host at Radio Goobjoog in Mogadishu, where he has worked for three years now. His working day starts at 8.00 o’clock in the morning and ends at 5.00 o’clock, after which he can be found drinking tea with his friends at the street-side kiosks in Mogadishu town. He does not have many hobbies, he says, as there is only so much his visual limitations permit him to do. He says he would like to play football and other sports, but he has learnt to accept that he cannot do everything he wants. This however does not stop him from enjoying a happy fulfilled life like everybody else.
After his evening rendezvous, Hassan calls a taxi or gets one of his friends to drive him home. He has a wife and three little children whom he says are the reason he untiringly works regardless of all the challenges his visual impairment presents, as he wants them to have a good life.
Life has not been easy for this ambitious journalist. He has met unimaginable challenges in his career path and personal life. He recounts a moment during his school days when he came close to giving up on hope of ever living a normal life. “I studied up to secondary level. I wanted to continue and acquire a university education, but there was no institution around that catered to the needs of people like me. The only alternative would have been to travel to the west where they have schools which cater to kids with vision impairment, but that is something I never even considered could happen for me,” he says.
“I used to sit in the classroom just to listen to what the teacher was saying. There were cases where the teacher would enter and ask the class to open page this and read or do an exercise,” he smiles. “It was tough. Obviously, that is not something I could do anything about so I would just sit. One day that stood out to me; was when it was time for the termly examinations. The teacher gave the exam paper to everyone else, then turned to me and said, you are blind; you will not do the exam. I will just help you and write for you a few marks on your exam paper. I went to the head teacher to complain about the injustice, I had studied for an entire term like they had. The head teacher did nothing to help me. In fact, when the results came back, I had been failed and marked as one who missed the examination.”
Hassan was lucky to be transferred to another school after that, which he says is the only reason he did not drop out. At the new school, the teacher sat with him in a separate room and gave him an oral exam. He continued to go forward with burgeoning optimism, until he turned his dream into his real life. “The reason I wanted to become a journalist was because I had a disadvantage compared to other people. I felt like my impairment put me in a vulnerable group that wasn’t being heard whereas the media had the power had that power.”
Asked about his experience as a journalist, Hassan is full of stories to tell. He however recounts one incident where to date; he does not understand how he did not die from it. “I woke up in the morning and it was just a regular day, I went to cover a conference at one of the hotels in the city where high profile government officials were in attendance. While I stood at the gate waiting to be checked in, I heard shootings going on in the surrounding areas. Everybody screamed and fled the scene. I couldn’t run. I had nowhere to go. I fell to the ground and started to crawl, not knowing if I was going away from the danger, or further into it. I was extremely relieved when I came across an AMISOM protective barrier that had been built to protect the area from such attack. I took cover behind it, but even then, I did not know whether the fire was in front of me, or behind me. All I heard were bullets spraying, and the sound of my heart pounding in my throat.”
According to Hassan, there is still a lot the media has to strife for in Somalia. He wishes professional institutions could be set up to train and mentor local journalists. Inadequate pay and the threat from the Al Shabaab militias still poses a major threat to their lives in this career path, as they threaten lives and ban the internet every other day, but he is positive that all this will get better with the continued support from AMISOM and the Government of Somalia.
Hassan says there is no way to ever repay the various countries that have aided and supported Somalia through her tough times, the humanitarian organizations, as well as all the other organizations. “The journalists and the country as a whole have a reason to celebrate the International Press Freedom Day. A lot still needs to be done, but we cannot deny the fact that there is so much we have to celebrate for. If for nothing else, at least for the music we can now play and enjoy.


Somali Media Mapping report